For my second current connection, I was assigned the reading pages 119-140 in The New Teacher Book. It discussed some very important topics including teaching about the border and Mexican immigration which is what I chose to do my connection on. The section in The New Teacher Book was titled “The Line Between Us” and it was written by Bill Bigelow. I connected Bigelow’s insights on border immigration to Teaching Immigration with the Immigrant Stories Project from the University of Minnesota.
In the project lesson plans, three separate units address understanding the concept of immigration and refugees through immigrant families’ personal experiences. The first unit delves into why families feel the need to flee their home country. What is their culture like in terms of government, health, education, and such important living conditions? It also explains how the families go about doing it. What factors play into their decision to leave? What is the process for actually taking the steps to leave?
The second unit addresses refugee and asylum systems. Done again through personal stories and experiences, teachers can give students real-life examples to help them understand what it’s like to flee a country and then find safety and stability in a new home. Much of unit 2 focuses on human rights so that students can empathize with refugees and try to imagine the differences between their lives and that of refugees.
The third unit addresses culture and identity formation. Students learn about culture, culture diffusion, and how those two things affect how people view themselves. This unit studies this topic both currently, as well as precedently, looking at other examples of cultural diffusion throughout history.
In each of the units, dynamic, interactive lessons are taught in order to help students understand and analyze immigration. This is precisely the kind of teaching Bigelow suggests in his article “The Line Between Us” in The New Teacher Book. He recommends using role playing, poetry, improvisations, etc to engage students more and make the lessons come to life. In doing so, the lessons become more real and students are more likely to connect, understand, and empathize.
In addition to using real life stories, the University of Minnesota incorporated these types of engaging techniques. For example, in Unit 2, there was a refugee role play activity where cards were shuffled and passed out to students. The cards had identities on them and once students read their cards, they took turns acting out the refugee’s experience. The cards stated what country they were fleeing from and why. Once students read the scenario and acted it out, they then had to imagine what it would be like if they were the ones in that position.
The third step of this lesson was for students to write down a list of ten things they would take with them if they were suddenly forced to flee their country.
While these types of lessons can be sad, even scary, especially to those students who may have actually experienced it or had family members who experienced it, it is necessary. These types of livelier lessons are more beneficial to students because they are better able to comprehend the experience and why it occurs, more so than if they would just read about it in a textbook. It is simply more engaging and easier to understand. It encourages empathy and a deeper look into themselves and their own culture(s). Teachers need to be cautious, however, when teaching this subject to make sure they don’t single anyone out. They need to make sure they are inclusive, supportive, and respectful. This can be a tricky subject to teach, but one that is most certainly worthy of attention. When done correctly and through careful lesson planning and implementation, it can be very effective for students.
The University of Minnesota seemed to approach the teaching of immigration through the Immigrant Stories Project much in the same way Bigelow taught about Mexican immigration through his lessons in “The Line Between Us.”